Budget battle heats up

Published 10:21 am Thursday, February 23, 2012

Finance director: 20 percent reduction would cut police, firefighters, other offices


A couple of passionate exchanges marked the Ironton City Council Finance Committee meeting Wednesday as city leaders gathered to hear how a proposed 20 percent budget cut would affect residents and city services.

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Meanwhile, a special city council meeting that was to have followed the finance committee meeting was rescheduled for 6 p.m. Monday to allow all council members to be present to cast votes on the municipal fee and payroll tax reciprocity measures.

Finance Director Kristen Martin handed the committee and other council members a several-page proposal that is $1 million less that the 2011 budget.

Martin said the budget includes the five percent increase in the amount employees pay for health insurance and a new requirement that each employee begin paying 7 and a half percent of their retirement pickup. The budget would still force the layoff of one full-time police officer, one person in the finance department, three police dispatchers and three full-time firefighters. It would also require the elimination of the animal control department, economic development office and the benefits specialist job.

Martin said office supplies and travel expenses were cut in half in each department as well.

Committee member Kevin Waldo said it was his understanding that the 20 percent cut would be across the bottom line of the budget, not slashes to specific areas.

“We’re removing certain jobs, cutting entire departments,” Waldo said.

“Some departments only have one or two people,” Martin said. She explained that making a 20 percent cut in a small department would automatically cut a person when there is nothing else to eliminate.

Chairman Mike Lutz responded by saying he was not interested in cutting jobs and said the situation may require both cuts and revenue increase.

“Either we’re going to increase revenue and cut where we can or cut probably 10 percent of employees through jobs. Personally I’m not interested in that,” Lutz said. Martin also said she thought cuts and increases were necessary. She pointed out that state allotments to the city were being cut by nearly $80,000, meaning the city will have less money this year and in coming years to fund operations.

She pointed out that even if the city cuts $1 million from its budget, the problem of dwindling revenues will mean the city will end 2012 with a carryover of only $270,000.

“I know it’s not a popular thing,” Waldo said, “it’s not popular to people affected by reciprocity but I think we need to terminate reciprocity and raise the municipal fee.” His comment twice drew loud applause from city employees who attended the finance committee meeting.

Committee member Aaron Bollinger said he had no problem with eliminating the benefits specialist position but did not want to cut police officers and fire fighters. He said he thought cuts in some areas was a necessity before the city council entertained fee or tax increases.

“It’s time to tighten our belts and cut everything we can cut,” Bollinger said.

But this drew a passionate response from Katrina Keith, who holds the benefits specialist job. She told the committee that, when her position was created, the city was paying $303,000 a year in worker’s compensation premiums. Since taking that job three years ago, she has managed to trim that figure by $80,000 and expects that trend to continue in the next three years as the city has someone whose job it is to supervise claims and handle worker safety programs.

Keith said she was “offended and appalled” that Bollinger wants to get rid of a position that has saved the city money and provides human resources functions to departments that are too small to have a dedicated HR position.

“Fire me if you don’t want me but don’t get rid of the position,” Keith said. She also defended the need for an economic development office. She told the committee she was “passionate about the city,” a comment that drew loud applause.

Bollinger told her he had based his opinion on her address to the finance committee last month at which time she asked that some of her duties be transferred to the finance department.

Keith replied she would like to give heath insurance supervision back to the finance department and safety training to the fire department, but never said she wanted to give up all her duties. She also would like to devote some of her time to a proposed Main Street program if the city decides to implement it.